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Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 9 - "And Lead Us Not Into Temptation"

We are getting down to the last two petitions of the Lord's Prayer, which some would treat as one and the same, although Guardini's text separates them for good reason.  As we embark upon the petition "And lead us not into temptation," we will be focusing on two aspects of the petition.

First, as Guardini points out on page 76 of his text, the purpose of this petition is the desire that God doesn't bring us into the possibility of sinful action, but he also notes that this isn't quite correct either.  The reason Guardini says this is due to the reality of our already being situated in that possibility due to the Fall and our own concupiscence to sin, and to be removed from that is contingent upon the miraculous.  Also, I will add to that the fact that the original translation of this petition read more like this - let us not be led into temptation.  After all, it isn't God who leads us to be tempted - God never intended for that in the first place!   In the same manner, it is also not God who sends us to hell - we do that ourselves.   God doesn't want us to be subjected to temptation, nor does he desire us to be thrown into hell, but we get in the way of that.   Remember the earlier part of the Lord's Prayer, and the lynchpin petition holding it all together - "Thy will be done?"   Well, it goes back to Guardini's teaching on that, which states that although God's will is great and perfect, our own stubbornness and the wrong application of our God-given free will often weakens the will of God in our lives, hence the petition is needed to pray that God's will be done, and that our will should conform to God's.   In the same way, concupiscence for sin makes temptation to sin possible, and only a living, loving relationship with God through Christ helps us overcome that.   So, in praying that we may not be led into temptation, Guardini notes on page 77 that this petition can only mean that God may grant that the reality of concupiscence may not manifest in sinful action, and that is where we need to focus.

In this day and age, it is often too easy to be "led into temptation" even in the supposed Church world.  As the time grows ever closer for Christ's return, we are given several signs that His coming is closer, and one of those signs is in direct relation to this petition in the Lord's prayer.   Starting first in II Thessalonians 2:11, we note something -  many will not receive the full truth of the Gospel, and indeed many who do will apostatize the faith - we see this also in I Timothy 4:1, where it is mentioned that in the latter times some will depart (apostatize) from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of devils, and in doing so, they will begin to not only embrace some wacky things, but even allow the world system to dictate their values and behavior.  We see this likewise in II Timothy 3:13-14, where it says this will get worse, with both people deceiving and being deceived.  Note that much of this in the Church, and if you go back to the parables of Jesus, it is the tares/goats/bad fish He talked about.  And, it will be widespread - many people, in the name of Christianity, will embrace this stuff in such a way that it makes no sense, except that they are being deceived by a false delusion God allows to be sent upon them.   Now, take a look at the news today, will you - apostasy is on the rise in all sectors of Christianity, and people are believing all sorts of bizarre stuff.  All logic dictates they should know better, yet they fall into the trap - look now, for instance, at how many Catholic and Evangelical Protestant clergy are embracing things like evolution and "gay marriage" because it makes them more "relevant" to today's society.   Problem is, God has always transcended the trends of the day, and His truths are eternal.   Therefore, as Guardini notes on page 78 of his text, the petition to "not be led into temptation" is for the believer confessing it a humble recognition of the truth as well as an appeal to God's mercy.  That being said, when we pray "let us not be led into temptation" it means that we be strengthened against the assault and pressure to "conform" to the groupthink that permeates much popular theology.  The reason for that is quite simple - the distractions and allurements of this life  (including temptations to tinker with orthodox teaching in favor of a more popular approach) turn the propensity to sin into an urgent danger, and the temptation grows fierce and relentless.   Therefore, when the pressure is on to conform to things that clearly contradict the orthodox teaching of the Church on anything, it means that we need to seek to be closer to God in communion with Him, and the way we do that is through an active sacramental and devotional life.

This then leads to the second aspect of the discussion that Guardini opens up on pages 80-82 - can God permit temptation to become so severe that we must fall?   In 1983, Christian novelist Frank Peretti wrote a compelling drama of spiritual warfare called This Present Darkness, in which a small Midwestern town becomes the scene of an intense spiritual struggle between a rich national occultist business mogul named Alexander Kaseph and a small-town young pastor of a local church named Hank Busche.    In a series of events that follow, God allows the pastor to fall into a situation in which a demon-possessed woman (who was a plant) attacks him, and he gets arrested and thrown in jail on a trumped-up rape charge.  As you read the story further, God allows this to happen because another protagonist, a persistent and stubborn local newspaper editor named Marshall Hogan, is framed in a similar way when his own daughter is influenced by a witch who is teaching psychology classes at the local college, and he too ends up in jail and the pastor ends up being his cellmate - as the pastor and editor began to compare notes, they begin to play their respective parts in God's plan to bring down the underlying spiritual powers behind Kaseph's empire - a demonic prince named Rafar - and God used a tragic and unjust situation to gain victory over the forces of evil in that town.   As Guardini notes, every hour we exist is woven into the whole fabric of our lives as individuals, and it is important to note that Satan has an assignment to cause each of us to fall just as God has a plan - the temptations that Satan and demonic entities use against us grow from our previous actions in our life's journey, and these circumstances that create the potential temptations to us become incorporated into our living being as either a weakness or strength, a protection or threat - it all depends on our response to it.  But, even when we fail in some way, and perhaps we end up sinning (the question for us as human beings, due to the concupiscence issue, is not if we will sin, but when - we are vulnerable, and a moment of weakness can lead to a sinful act on our part).   This present hour - right now - is the distillation therefore of all that has happened in our lives up to this point.  Remember the Aquinas principle of non-contradiction based on God's two books - Nature and Revelation?   Well, remember that Revelation perfects Nature and Nature can never contradict Revelation, as God created the natural order and it functions according to how He created it, even down to the most minute and simplest of detail.  That being said, each of us has our own "Book of Nature," or our story, if you will, and a "Master Book" of that story is a continuous action until we repose.   When God's Word becomes involved in our lives on a personal level, it transforms our story in that God allows His revelation to begin to perfect us, and from that interaction comes what is called a testimony.  Although some of my fellow Anglo-Catholics, as well as brethren in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches who read this, may pooh-pooh the idea of "personal testimony" as being a bi-product of Protestant revivalism, in reality all Christians have a testimony of some sorts - we, if we are completely honest with ourselves, have to acknowledge a profound move of God's will in our lives on some level, whether it be surviving a debilitating illness, a moment when something transforms our lives, or even just the daily insight we receive from our personal prayer and reading of the Bible and other devotional literature.  These things become integrated into our own "Master Book," and as they do, they begin to shape our existence as living beings.  And, that also includes the negative - an occasional sin or personal tragedy of some sort can be used of God to draw us back to Him, and it serves to remind us of the current petition we are discussing - "Let us not be led into temptation."   And, that leads to another discussion - predestination.

The term "predestination" has been the topic of much lively theological debate over the centuries, and the source of the debate is simply this - does God know the outcome of our lives in detail, or does our free will shape some (or all) of it?   The most notable historical aspect of this debate is the Calvinist/Arminian controversy of the earliest days of the Protestant Reformation.   Some Calvinists taught something called supralapsarianism, which means that God has predestined some to salvation, and others to damnation, and therefore if you were chosen for salvation, nothing you could do would forfeit that (leading to two doctrines, one being irresistable grace, and the second being perserverance of the saints, or the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer, sometimes called by its critics "once saved always saved.")  Calvinist Protestants in recent times have gone two directions with this idea, with the more conservative believing in a strict "Two-Seed Predestinarianism," which presupposes that certain people are actually earmarked for damnation, while the more liberal would go with Universalism, the belief that all humanity is part of "the elect" and will all be saved anyway (it is now called in some Evangelical circles Universal Reconcilliation or Inclusionism, and has been popularized by Emergent Church people such as Rob Bell).   The problem with this position in either extreme is that it doesn't really define what predestination actually is, because it presupposes that God has already set this in stone and it is in direct conflict with the Gospel message, which proclaims that Jesus died for all, yet it is up to us to accept that as individuals.   If we look at Romans 9:20-23, we see the paradox as God Himself asks through the words of the Apostle Paul, "But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God?"   And, explaining this further, an analogy of the potter shaping a clay vessel is used - does not the potter have power over the clay to make a vessel for honor or for dishonor?   Taking the whole Scriptures into context, the point is that God made the vessel (meaning us), and it was good (Genesis 1:31).  However, how the vessel is used is what makes it honorable or dishonorable.   The point is that evil doesn't come from God, but from our fallen nature, and if man chooses to live in a way that is dishonorable, he condemns himself and God only pronounces the verdict.  Again, God doesn't throw us into hell, nor does He will that we die as sinners, but if we make the wrong choice, we pay the consequences.  The late evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman also expressed this well too, as she often said in her meetings that God doesn't desire gold or silver vessels, but rather yielded vessels.  A yielded vessel would be one of us who desires from the heart when he or she prays from the lips "Thy will be done," not only in a broad sense as the Lord's Prayer says ("on earth as it is in heaven") but on a personal level, making inner transformation into that which God has predestined us to be.   Therefore, by predestination, it simply means that in a way which transcends our own understanding, God can see the outcomes of all our choices, and it is up to us to exercise free will in making the right or wrong choice.  God decreed man to be created in this way because He is love Himself, Our Father!  

Now we come to that principle of grace, which coming from the Greek charis implies something that is outside the realm of effort and obligation.  Grace (or as defined by some appropriately as "unmerited favor") is a free gift of God, hence its attraction and beauty.  Grace is given from God's love, and is not hedged by earned or inherent rights or securities - "security" after all implies right, guarantee, and constraint, which grace transcends.  Therefore, grace is the defining true meaning of predestination, in that it is a thought of love (specifically God's love) and it is the final assurance the all comes from God's freedom.  Therefore, the Christian must let go of everything that spells security, rights, and demonstrable common sense, thus freeing one to achieve harmony with God.  Now, what does all of that mean?  Does it mean that we check our brains at the door of the Church when we go in, and that we don't utilize common sense at all?   Does it also mean we deny all our own rights?   No!   It means that we deny ourselves those things which are based on selfish motive - we always affirm the right to worship God in freedom of conscience, for instance, because that honors God.   We stand up for other human rights because they benefit others besides ourselves - this is why, in some cases, it is permissable to kill in self-defense when our families or communities are threatened, and it also is why St. Augustine taught the theory of "just war," because it means enforcing justice for others even if it means laying our own lives on the line for it.  Some "Christian pacifists" today don't understand that, and the reason that is the case is because they have not been put into a situation where they had to act on behalf of another in that way, and many of them would not have the courage to stand up for what is right anyway.   That is why, too, we need to be careful not to be led into the temptation of our own securities, because our own securities lead to a delusion of heresy and misinterpretation of things.

As we continue next time with the complimentary petition to this one - "deliver us from evil" - we will be continuing in this train of thought, as again we need to keep in mind that the Lord's Prayer only makes sense if you can see how each part of it fits together with the others.  Preventing the sway into temptation as we talked about here is intimately connected to deliverance from evil as well, and we will be seeing that.   God be with and bless each of you reading this until our next visit.